Not-for-profit Law
Legal help for community organisations

Internal Conflict

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All not-for-profit community organisations have to deal with conflict sometimes. Healthy debate is good for your organisation, but if conflict and disputes are preventing your organisation from achieving its goals, you need to know how to handle it effectively and legally.  

This page provides information on dealing with conflict and disputes involving members of a community organisation, and covers particular requirements for Victorian incorporated associations.

This page does not cover disputes or conflict involving employees (see Employee Disputes), volunteers (see Volunteers), situations that may endanger the health and safety of people in the workplace (eg. bullying, see OHS), or violence (where the police may need to get involved, and criminal laws may apply).

Dealing with disputes and grievances with members

Victorian incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with 'grievances' under their rules. Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between:

  • member(s) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation
  • member(s) of the organisation and the committee of management, or
  • members of the committee of management (or board).

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected. The following fact sheet contains information regarding:

  • what is an ‘internal dispute’ within a Victorian incorporated association and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute
  • how closely you need to follow your organisation’s dispute resolution procedures, and
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray and what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court.

  • when a Victorian incorporated association can remove, suspend or fine a member
  • how an incorporated association can remove, suspend or fine a member, and
  • how closely the law requires an incorporated association to follow its disciplinary procedures.

Removing a committee member from the committee 

The committee of management (or board) of a Victorian not-for-profit incorporated association controls and manages the business and affairs of the organisation. Sometimes an organisation's ability to achieve its aims is disrupted because a committee or board member is behaving inappropriately. If this happens, your organisation needs to know:

  • what to do before trying to remove a member from the committee 
  • how a committee member can be removed from the committee, and 
  • what happens once a committee member is removed.

This information is outlined in the below fact sheet.

Going to court about an internal dispute

The law provides some options for going to court about an ‘internal dispute' within a Victorian incorporated association. However, going to court is stressful, time consuming and expensive - it is a last resort. 

Before deciding to take court action about an internal dispute, think about what is really important about the dispute. Will going to court fix it? Also ask:

  • who, if anyone, is likely to get what they want by going to court?
  • how much has the dispute cost so far, and how much more will our organisation spend if it goes to court?
  • what will be the personal costs of going to court be (eg, time, impact on individual's lives, relationships and stress levels)?
  • are there other alternatives (eg, resigning or starting another organisation)?

Seek legal advice before making a decision about what to do. The fact sheet below contains general information about:

  • things to try before going to court about an internal dispute 
  • what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court under the Associations Incorporation Reform Act 2012 (Vic), and 
  • what to do if someone takes legal action against your organisation.

Related links

Dealing with disputes and grievances with members

NSW incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with 'grievances' under their rules. Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between:

  • member(s) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation
  • member(s) of the organisation and the committee of management, or
  • members of the committee of management (or board).

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected. The following fact sheet contains information on:

  • what is an ‘internal dispute’ within a NSW incorporated association and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute
  • how closely you need to follow your organisation’s dispute resolution procedures, and
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray and what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court.

Removing or disciplining a member

In NSW incorporated associations, disciplinary procedures can allow an organisation to remove, suspend or fine a member who is acting inappropriately or damaging your organisation’s ability to operate. The below guide contains relevant information regarding:

  • how to discipline a member
  • how to remove, suspend or fine a member of your organisation, and
  • other options for disciplinary action and removing a member.

Removing a committee member from the committee 

The committee of management (or board) of a NSW not-for-profit incorporated association controls and manages the business and affairs of the organisation. Sometimes an organisation's ability to achieve its aims is disrupted because a committee or board member is behaving inappropriately. If this happens, your organisation needs to know:

  • what to do before trying to remove a member from the committee 
  • how a committee member can be removed from the committee, and 
  • what happens once a committee member is removed.

This information is outlined in the factsheet below. 

Going to court about an internal dispute

The law provides some options for going to court about an ‘internal dispute' within a NSW incorporated association. However, going to court is stressful, time consuming and expensive - it should be a last resort. 

Before deciding to take court action about an internal dispute, think about what is really important about the dispute. Will going to court fix it? Also ask:

  • who, if anyone, is likely to get what they want by going to court?
  • how much has the dispute cost so far, and how much more will our organisation spend if it goes to court?
  • what will be the personal costs of going to court be (eg, time, impact on individual's lives, relationships and stress levels)?
  • are there other alternatives (eg, resigning or starting another organisation)?

Seek legal advice before making a decision about what to do. The following fact sheet contains information regarding:

  • the kinds of internal disputes a New South Wales incorporated association may go to court about, and
  • a brief summary of what happens if someone takes legal action against your incorporated association.

Related links

Dealing with disputes and grievances with members

Queensland incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with disputes and grievances under their rules. Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between:

  • member(s) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation
  • member(s) of the organisation and the committee of management, or
  • members of the committee of management (or board).

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected. The following fact sheet contains information on:

  • what is an ‘internal dispute’ within a Queensland incorporated association and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray, and
  • what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court.

Dealing with disputes and grievances with members

South Australian incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with disputes and grievances under their rules. Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between:

  • member(s) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation
  • member(s) of the organisation and the committee of management, or
  • members of the committee of management (or board).

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected. The following fact sheet contains information on:

  • what is an ‘internal dispute’ within a South Australian incorporated association and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray, and
  • what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court.

Dealing with disputes and grievances with members

Northern Territory incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with disputes and grievances under their rules. Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between:

  • member(s) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation
  • member(s) of the organisation and the committee of management, or
  • members of the committee of management (or board).

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected. The following fact sheet contains information on:

  • what is an ‘internal dispute’ within a NT incorporated association and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray, and
  • what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court.

Dealing with disputes and grievances with members

ACT incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with disputes and grievances under their rules. Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between:

  • member(s) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation
  • member(s) of the organisation and the committee of management, or
  • members of the committee of management (or board).

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected. The following fact sheet contains information on:

  • what is an ‘internal dispute’ within an ACT incorporated association and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray, and
  • what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court.

Dealing with disputes and grievances with members

Tasmanian incorporated associations must have procedures for dealing with disputes and grievances under their rules. Typically, a 'grievance' arises where there is conflict between:

  • member(s) of the organisation and the rest of the organisation
  • member(s) of the organisation and the committee of management, or
  • members of the committee of management (or board).

For example, a member might complain that the annual general meeting was not properly held; tensions may arise about the use of funds; or a committee member may dispute whether another member of the committee was validly elected. The following fact sheet contains information on:

  • what is an ‘internal dispute’ within a Tasmanian incorporated association and what to do when there is an internal dispute in your organisation
  • how mediation can help resolve a dispute
  • other options if your organisation is in disarray, and
  • what kinds of internal disputes can be taken to court.

Last Updated: 22 August 2017

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